CC: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919) and The Unnamable (1988)

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Friday, August 23, 2013

CC: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919) and The Unnamable (1988)

Now here is a great example of why I keep record of what movies I talk about.  I was halfway through writing about the sequel to tonight’s movie when I realized I had never actually written about the film that the sequel would be building on.  Knowledge of the first film is very important to understanding what the heck is going on in the sequel since the first scene in The Unnamable II literally starts ten minutes after the close of tonight’s film.  We are going to have to make a couple of stops on the way to the movie so let us get our learning on.

The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919)

"The Statement of Randolph Carter" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Written December 1919, it was first published in The Vagrant, May 1920.  It tells of a traumatic event in the life of Randolph Carter, a student of the occult loosely representing Lovecraft himself.  It is the first story in which Carter appears and is part of Lovecraft's Dream Cycle.  These stories concern themselves with "The Dreamlands," a vast, alternate dimension that can be entered via dreams.

The Dreamlands are apparently divided into four regions:

  • The West contains the Steps of Deeper Slumber and Enchanted Wood by which many enter the Dreamlands. Other points of interest include the port of Dylath-Leen, the Dreamlands' largest city; the town of Ulthar "where no man may kill a cat," the coastal jungle city of Hlanith, and the desert trading capital Illarnek.  Here, too, lies the land of Mnar whose gray stones are etched with signs and where rise the ruins of the great Sarnath.
  • The South, home of the isle of Oriab and the areas known as the Fantastic Realms;
  • The East, home of Celepha├»s, a city dreamt into being by its monarch Kuranes, greatest of all recorded dreamers, and the dangerous Forbidden Lands;
  • The North, location of the feared Plateau of Leng, home of man-eating spiders and the satyr-like "Men of Leng".

Other locales include the Underworld, a subterranean region underneath the Dreamlands inhabited by various monsters; the Moon, accessible via a ship and inhabited by toad-like "moon-beasts" allied with Nyarlathotep; and Kadath, a huge castle atop a mountain and the domain of the "Great Ones".

Lovecraft based the story on a dream that he transcribed, adding only a preamble to make it more fluid as a narrative, and wrote it in the form of a testimony given to the police.  An account of the actual dream Lovecraft had can be found in one of his letters to August Derleth.

"The Statement of Randolph Carter" is the first person, apparently verbatim, testimony of the titular character, who has been found wandering through swampland in an amnesiac shock.  In his statement, Carter attempts to explain the disappearance of his companion, the occultist Harley Warren.

Warren has come into the possession of a book written in an unknown language that he forbids Carter from seeing. Carter mentions that Warren has other "strange, rare books on forbidden subjects", several of which are in Arabic.

From his mysterious book, Warren apparently deduces that doors or stairways exist between the surface world and the underworld through which demons may travel.  He encourages Carter to travel with him to the location of one such portal, an ancient graveyard near Big Cypress Swamp.  Upon arriving, Warren locates a particular tomb and opens it to reveal a staircase that descends into the earth.  Taking a lantern, he leaves Carter on the surface and follows the stairs into the darkness, communicating with his companion by a telephone wire.

After several minutes of silence, Warren suddenly begins to make vague, panicked outbursts that culminate in a desperate plea for Carter to flee.  Finally, after Warren is silent for several minutes, Carter calls to him down the line, only to hear a voice telling him that Warren is dead.


The Unnamable (1923)

"The Unnamable" is a short story by science fiction and horror author H. P. Lovecraft.  It was written in September of 1923 and was first published in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

Carter, a weird fiction writer, meets with his close friend, Joel Manton, in a cemetery near an old, dilapidated house on Meadow Hill in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts.  As the two sit upon a weathered tomb, Carter tells Manton the tale of an indescribable entity that allegedly haunts the house and surrounding area.  He contends that because such an entity cannot be perceived by the five senses, it becomes impossible to quantify and accurately describe, thus earning itself the term unnamable.

As the narration closes, this unnamable presence attacks both Carter and Manton.  Both men survive and awaken later at St. Mary’s hospital.  They suffer from various lacerations, including scarring from a large horn-shaped object and bruises in the shape of hoof-prints on their backs.

Manton describes the unnamable in the closing passage of the story:

It was everywhere — a gelatin — a slime — yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were eyes — and a blemish. It was the pit — the maelstrom — the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!

Lovecraft leaves the exact nature and origins of the Unnamable itself vague.  It is hinted that it was born in the late 17th or early 18th century, and kept hidden away in the attic of the now-abandoned house associated with the legend.  The original reports of the creature, as told by Carter, indicate a devil-like figure.  There are references throughout the story to the creature having horns and hooves, and Carter, when relating how he found the thing's bones in the attic of the old house, mentions "four-inch horns, but a face and jaw something like yours and mine." There are also references to the thing's "blemished eye," and a "screaming drunken wretch that they hanged for having such an eye."  Eventually, the legends, in the words of Carter, "take on a spectral character - I suppose the thing, if it was a living thing, must have died."  After their encounter in the cemetery, Manton describes the monster as "everywhere - a gelatin - a slime yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory.  There were eyes - and a blemish."  Tellingly, the men are left with wounds of hooves and horns.


The Unnamable (1988)

  • Directed: Jean-Paul Ouellette
  • Produced: Jean-Paul Ouellette, Dean Ramser
  • Written:
    • Jean-Paul Ouellette (Screenplay)
    • H. P. Lovecraft (short story)
  • Starring: Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Charles Klausmeyer, Alexandra Durrell, Laura Albert
  • Music: David Bergeaud
  • Editing: Wendy J. Plump
  • Cinematography: Tom Fraser
  • Studio: Vidmark / Trimark
  • Distributed: Vidmark Entertainment
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: June 1988
  • Running Time: 96 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The Unnamable, based on H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Unnamable", was a film made in 1988 about a group of university students that made the poor decision to stay overnight in a 'haunted house'.   Mark Kinsey Stephenson played the lead role, Randolph Carter (a well known H.P. Lovecraft character), alongside Charles King. It was directed by Jean Paul Ouellette, as well as being written and produced by him.

The film begins in the late 18th century in the Winthrop house and something within it is screaming and banging at the walls of its confines.  Joshua Winthrop, the owner of the house, rushes through the poorly lit corridors of the house before unlocking a heavily locked door.  He begins talking to the creature inside to calm her down but she then kills him.

After the credits we get Randolph Carter and two of his university buddies, Howard and Joel, as he regales them with ghost stories.  Randolph points out that they are sitting in the graveyard surrounding the haunted house of his tales (which happens to be within the limits of observation).  The story that Randolph had been telling them was of Joshua Winthrop and his demon daughter, Alyda Winthrop.  Joel comes up with the idea to stay there overnight. Randolph and Howard go back to the university, leaving Joel to it.

Soon a group of students decide to go there, two young lads fresh from the university football team, Bruce Weeks and John Babcock, and a couple of girls that they want to score with: one of which Howard is in love with, Wendy Barnes, and the other is in love (use the term sparingly) with Howard, her name is Tanya Heller.  They go there and get set up in a room to tell each other ghost stories.  Meanwhile Howard chases after Randolph to tell him that Joel never came back from the house, prompting Randolph to swing into action saying "I'll get the flashlights" with some degree of authority and urgency, despite not being too bothered about the missing student prior to that.

Alyda Winthrop, the creature, begins stalking the four youngsters in her home, planning to kill them as she killed her father and Joel.  Soon Joel's decapitated corpse is found hanging upside down, his blood dripping onto a plate of some sort, along with his head, that rolls across the floor to look at a half naked Wendy.  Soon Randolph and Howard arrive at the house and Randolph discovers that the door has locked of its own accord upon their entry. Magic, he must be thinking.  Howard runs off to the aid of his beloved and Tanya, while Randolph decides to study The Necronomicon.  In it he finds a spell to unlock the door.  He goes outside and enters the ground under a tree via the tomb of Joshua Winthrop.  This tree, with the aid of Randolph and the book, snatches Alyda from the house in the climax of the film, with Howard and Tanya being the only two left alive and in the desperately terrifying vicinity of the demon female.

Howard and Tanya flee from the house and run to a safe distance, but a hand comes up from the ground and begins pulling Howard down.  It is Randolph coming up from the catacombs beneath having fended off the skeleton guardians.

The film was released on VHS in the United States by Vidmark Entertainment in both R-rated and Unrated editions.  As of 2011, the film has only been officially released on DVD in the United Kingdom, by Anchor Bay, in a double pack containing The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter under its UK title The Unnamable Returns.  Both films are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, with optional DTS soundtracks and various special features.

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